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The Surprising Link Between Glaucoma and Your Sleep Habits

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You might never have thought that the time you aren’t using your eyes affects their health most of all. Nearly 60 million people have glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness especially in older patients, and new research reports sleep apnea increases your glaucoma risk. Plus, if you’ve already been diagnosed with this eye condition, pay attention to your sleeping position. A study shows sleeping on the same side consistently worsens glaucoma in one eye. Besides using prescription eye drops like Bimatoprost ophthalmic solution, changing your sleep position can lessen your risk blindness.

What Exactly Is Glaucoma?

Your optic nerve carries images from your retina’s specialized light-sensing tissue to your brain so you can see — this is how your eyes work. When you have glaucoma, increased intraocular pressure can damage your optic nerve’s delicate fibers. Many people with normal eye pressure can develop glaucoma, as the pressure can involve mechanical compression and/or decreased blood flow of the optic nerve. When you have a significant number of impaired nerve fibers, they produce blind spots in your field of vision. Most people don’t notice irreversible vision problems until they have significant and permanent optic nerve damage. Untreated glaucoma reduces peripheral vision, causing tunnel vision. If it destroys your entire nerve, glaucoma causes blindness. Only half of people with glaucoma are aware they have it because this painless disease’s vision loss is typically gradual.

How Does Sleep Apnea Relate to Glaucoma?

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition affecting over 100 million people worldwide. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, blocks your airway, causing you to stop breathing for up to two minutes. Symptoms include loud snoring, gasping or choking while asleep as well as morning headaches and persistent daytime sleepiness. Researchers report sleep apnea patients have an increased risk for developing open-angle glaucoma within five years, so they should have regular glaucoma screenings. If the open drainage angle of your eye becomes blocked, eye pressure increases gradually, which can cause optic nerve damage. A compared medical records of over 1000 sleep apnea patients. Participants with obstructive sleep apnea were 1.67 times more likely to develop open-angle glaucoma, the most common type, within five years of their diagnosis. While previous research found glaucoma is more common in sleep apnea patients, this study concluded that obstructive sleep apnea is more than a marker for poor health. It’s also an independent risk factor for open-angle glaucoma. According to a University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center study, hypertensive and diabetic patients also may have an increased risk of developing open-angle glaucoma. Early detection and treatment are key to preventing optic nerve damage and vision loss. The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises all adults to get baseline eye exams by age 40 when signs of glaucoma and vision changes may begin to occur. Make an appointment with an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating eye diseases and conditions medically and surgically.

How Else Does Sleep Affect My Vision?

Lying down raises pressure in your eyeballs, so researchers investigated the side-sleeping position to determine if staying on one side more glau2than the other was problematic for the eye closest to the pillow. This new study found that people with worsening glaucoma on just one side were more likely to sleep with their affected eye facing downward. Researchers report that position raises the eye’s internal pressure and probably hastens eye deterioration. This study examined the sleeping habits of 430 glaucoma patients whose visual field loss was worse in one eye. Researchers found 132 of the patients preferred to sleep on one side. Of those, 67 percent slept with their worse eye downward usually. They also compared the sleep routines of patients who had glaucoma with elevated intraocular pressure (high-tension glaucoma) against people with normal pressure (normal-tension glaucoma). Approximately 71 percent of high-tension and 66 percent of normal-tension glaucoma patients preferred to sleep with their worse eye downward. These results verify a link between the preferred side-sleeping position and asymmetric visual field loss between eyes. Unfortunately, controlling your body position during sleep is very difficult. If you have severe damage in one eye, trying to avoid sleeping with that eye down makes sense. Sleeping on the side with less eye damage or on your back may help, but sleeping on your back may not be the answer for people who are predisposed to sleep apnea, another glaucoma risk factor.

What Can I Do After Diagnosis?

Your glaucoma treatment will depend on the nature and severity of your specific case. In general, ophthalmologists can’t cure glaucoma, but treatment can control it. Doctors use eye drops, pills, laser procedures and surgical operations to prevent or slow further damage from occurring. With any type of glaucoma, regular eye examinations are very important to detect progression and to prevent further vision loss. Tests can measure your treatment’s effectiveness. Because glaucoma can worsen without any signs, your doctor probably will change your treatment over time to achieve a lower target eye pressure. To lessen the risk of it worsening, be compliant with your medical regimen and follow up with appointments as your ophthalmologist directs.

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